After a three-game slide, the New York Giants got themselves in a hole and finally woke up against the Dallas Cowboys in a battle of NFC East rivals.
Morten Andersen celebrated his 300th NFL game with his fifth career overtime field goal, this one coming 7:55 into the extra session, as the Giants rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit and edged the Cowboys, 27-24.
Kerry Collins hit receiver Ike Hilliard on a 3rd-and-5 with a 33-yard pass to advance the Giants to the Cowboys' 33. Four plays later, Andersen split the uprights.
"I get juiced for a game-winner. I get juiced for big kicks. That's what I thrive on," the 20-year veteran Andersen said. "It's very special on this team because they've taken me in as one of theirs now."
Following back-to-back one-point defeats to St. Louis and Philadelphia and an embarassing loss at Washington last Sunday, the Giants (4-4) won for the fifth time in their last six home games against the Cowboys.
The comeback marked the biggest for the Giants since December 1, 1986, when New York battled back to beat San Francisco, 21-17, after trailing 17-0 at halftime.
Sparked by four second-half interceptions by his defense and a blocked punt on special teams, Collins recorded two of his three touchdown passes in the second half and Andersen kicked a 40-yard field goal as New York knotted the contest, 24-24, with 6:41 left in regulation.
"I wanted my guys to believe I believed too," Giants coach Jim Fassel said when asked if he felt the season slipping away at halftime. "I didn't scream and holler at them. We came together and said we're down and I told them it's not impossible to win this game. As long as it's not impossible let's go out and get the damn game."
Fassel improved to 2-0-1 in overtime games in charge of the Giants. Their last overtime contest came on October 31, 1999, when they posted a 23-17 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins saw two interceptions of his own returned for touchdowns in the first half, but the quarterback bounced back. Off an interception by rookie cornerback Will Peterson and a blocked punt by Thabiti Davis, Collins found receivers Joe Jurevicius and Hilliard for TD strikes of 34 and nine yards, respectively.
In his second career start, Clint Stoerner threw all four Dallas interceptions and was benched for recently-acquired Ryan Leaf as the Cowboys (2-5) had their two-game winning streak broken.
Dallas running back Emmitt Smith was inactive for Sunday's game due to a sprained right knee. Troy Hambrick, Smith's understudy, gained 77 yards on 30 carries.
"We knew they would have a good running game anyway. They've still got those big guys up front," Giants safety Shaun Williams said. "Of course, No. 22 is a Hall-of-Fame back and he probably would have created some more problems for us and I guess it would have been even more of a downer I guess if we lost (with Smith sidelined)."
Momentum appeared to swing towards the Giants six minutes into the third quarter. An apparent five-yard touchdown run by Hambrick was called back after Rocket Ismail was flagged for offensive pass interference for an illegal pick on linebacker Mike Barrow.
On the next play, Peterson intercepted a pass intended for receiver Joey Galloway in the end zone to keep the Giants' deficit at 17.
Collins went 4-for-4 on the ensuing Giants possession. He finished off the six-play, 80-yard drive with a second TD strike of the game to Jurevicius. The receiver benefited from a mismatch against linebacker Dat Nguyen on a failed Dallas blitz as New York cut the score to 24-14 and began its fight back.
"Today's win was huge," said Collins, who threw for 280 yards on 24-of-34 passing. "At 3-5, three division losses, it's going to be tough. We had to find a way to win that game. That was the bottom line and we did."
In a potentially devastating sequence, a pair of challenges went against the Giants in a 2:40 third-quarter span. Stoerner hit Galloway with a 24-yard pass on 3rd-and-7. Despite the receiver's body language, which suggested he trapped the ball, the officials ruled there was not enough evidence for a reversal.
Two plays later, cornerback Jason Sehorn rescued the Giants, reading a throw to Ismail for an interception in the end zone.
After a pair of incomplete passes, Collins overthrew Hilliard but seemed fortunate that Amani Toomer dug up the ball and sprinted untouched for an 80-yard score. But this time, the officials reversed the touchdown decision on the field.
The Cowboys failed to take advantage of the officials' calls and excellent field position. Reggie Swinton's ensuing nine-yard punt return put Dallas at midfield.
"When you're learning how to win, you have to figure out a way to close the game out," Cowboys coach Dave Campo said. "They did just what they had to do to get into the football game and win it."
On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Stoerner threw his third interception to linebacker Dhani Jones, who was spelling Jessie Armstead. The Pro-Bowl outside linebacker recorded three tackles despite a strained left calf and hamstring.
The Giants drove 28 yards in six plays before Andersen converted his effort to slice their deficit to seven with 10:41 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys only managed to gain two yards on three plays before bringing on Micah Knorr, whose punt was blocked by Davis at the Dallas 14.
"There's a block point that he has," Davis said. "From watching film on him all week, he looked a little slow in terms of getting the ball off. It was just a matter of me getting to that block point."
Ron Dayne's five-yard run around right end set up Hilliard's game-tying TD catch.
Stoerner was pulled after his fourth interception with 6:36 left in the fourth. On a pass intended for Darrin Chiaverini on 3rd-and-25, linebacker Brandon Short recorded his first career interception, returning it 21 yards to the Dallas 18.
"The game, when it was in our favor, I felt that the best quarterback on the field was Clint Stoerner," Campo said. "When it got tho the point where we were even up and we had a bunch of turnovers, I went with a guy I thought had the best shot to get us up the football field. And he did."
Dayne led the Giants with 17 carries for 52 yards, but cost New York an opportunity to win in regulation. The former Heisman Trophy winner was stripped on the Dallas 3 by Orantes Grant, who also recovered the fumble.
With his first throw, Leaf rifled a 38-yard completion to Ismail. The former second overall pick also found Galloway with a 17-yarder before the Cowboys were forced to punt.
"I felt fine," said Leaf, who completed 4-of-8 passes for 85 yards. "It's a little different circumstance being on the three yard line, tied ball game, Giants Stadium. But I thouight it set the scene for a possibly great ending."
After opening the scoring with a 22-yard field goal 11:45 into the contest, Tim Seder was short from 47 yards out and wide right from 34 yards away in the final 5:18 of the first half.
Linebacker Dexter Coakley and cornerback Mario Edwards had interception returns of 29 and 71 yards, respectively, to help the Cowboys take a 17-point lead into the locker room.
On the game's opening drive, Michael Strahan recorded his lone sack of the contest. The Giants' defensive end, who also had six tackles, was contained by the Cowboys' offensive line after setting an NFL record last week for most sacks in a five-game span with 12 1/2.